Two years ago we reviewed Zen Cart vs Magento and with new versions available for both carts, we’re taking a fresh look at how these two shopping cart systems compare.
This first blog post looks at Products, Orders, Promotions and Customer Management with Zen Cart version 1.5 and Magento Community Edition version 1.7.
Within Zen Cart, all customers are registered users with a login and password (no guest customers). Customer management is straight-forward and allows for limiting shop functionality based on status, a useful tool if you wish for example to only show prices or allow purchasing to pre-approved clients. Customers can also be assigned to groups which can then be used to apply group discounts, a method often used for wholesale customers.
In Magento, customers can either be registered or guest (no login password). Similar to Zen Cart, Magento also supports the concept of customer groups, which can be used to as part of pricing rules but are not tied into the shop functionality (purchasing, price display) as with Zen Cart. Export of customer data as CSV is available.
Products and Stock Control
The main bugbear with Zen Cart is attribute stock control which is not part of the core install, and a free add-on is currently in beta development. “Attributes” in this context mean variations of a product, for example for a shop selling clothing, attributes could be size and colour. Zen Cart can pretty much handle all aspects of attributes except stock control.
Magento on the other hand is built with the SKU in mind and then allows you to flexibly combine individual products into grouped products. So instead of starting off with “Dress” and then adding attributes “size” “10,12,14″ as you would in Zen Cart, in Magento you start off with “dress 10″, “dress 12″, “dress 14″ and then combine these. Magento therefore has the benefit that each item has the full product details range including stock control.
In Magento, I’ve also found the ability to add custom fields to the product details useful. Going back to the dress example, with Magento you can quickly add specific fields like “occasion”, “length”, “season” and then tie this into the site’s navigation and search, as well as display on the product details page itself. Of course also doable in Zen Cart with code modifications but feels clumsier.
Lastly, Magento has several different types of product bundles, which can range from fixed bundles (a set), to “build your own” (eg a custom built computer or gift hamper) or displaying several items on the same page for individual purchasing (a range of related items), useful tools when it comes to up/cross selling or displaying a large product range in a meaningful way.
Although Magento may look complex at the beginning, the flexibility it provides makes it well worth for any shop with advanced stock and product management requirements.
Both carts support downloadable products.
Zen Cart covers the basics of order management, provided all your orders are taken online. Unlike Magento, Zen Cart makes no provision for order entering for telephone or written orders. For a business that wishes to use Zen Cart as its main stock and order system and which does handle phone/mail orders this poses a not insignificant challenge. Magento however fully supports order entering from the admin area, making it viable to use Magento as the central system for a small / medium business.
On the other hand, Magento has a rigid order processing system. Orders are expected to go through stages and no order can be deleted. Magento supports the concept of orders, invoices, shipments and credit memos. Based on my experience this structured approach tends to be appreciated by accountants whereas owners of smaller shops can find it fiddly.
Discounts and Gift Certificates
Zen Cart offers the ability to discount product prices by offering a sale price, a quantity discount, a customer group discount or a discount coupon for redemption at checkout. Also available is the ability to sell gift vouchers for redemption in the online shop.
Magento’s promotion section is much more flexible as it allows you set up your own rules and then apply to the shopping cart either with or without a coupon code. So if you fancy giving a “Buy 2 get 1 free” promotion, or to give a 20% discount on a specific brand if the order exceeds £100, then you can easily do so. For product discounts, there’s “Special Price” (sales prices); and “Tier Prices” (quantity discounts). Gift Vouchers however are not available in the core Magento Community Edition but can be added as a module.
Both carts have an inbuilt newsletter functionality but neither support batch sending, an essential feature for any shop hosted on a server with hourly mail limits, making it unlikely to be useful to any but the smallest of shops or shops hosted on their own dedicated box. Hence with both carts, using a third party mail provider such as Campaign Monitor, MailChimp, Constant Contact or similar is worth considering.
If you want to change emails in Zen Cart, it’s time to dive into the code (template over-rides). For Magento, you can use the email templating system in the admin area. Having said that, I’m unconvinced that the email customisation is feasible for a non-developer and given how easily mail programs can mangle a badly constructed HTML email, it’s not a risk worth taking. And from a developer point of view, there’s little difference between coding directly in a template system and coding in an admin area.
Magento emails also come with a “demo store” health warning and any new shop owner should read the essential guide “Setting Up Magento: So you want a REAL store and not a demo?” before unleashing emails onto their customers.
For Design, Purchase Flow, SEO and Hosting Requirements read our Part 2